Sunderland under-18s were held to a goalless stalemate at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday as they extended their unbeaten run to three games.
A quiet opening saw the young Black Cats grow in confidence, their passing game and ball retention, an area for concern in recent weeks, was far better and helped form the base for a solid display in the Black Country.
But while Mark Atkinson’s side had achieved some defensive solidarity, frustration grew up top as they lacked a spark of quality in the final third to really open up the Baggies.
The Lads did carve out a handful of scoring opportunities, while at the other end Alex Storey whirled into action to make an all-important block to prevent the hosts from going ahead in a closely fought opening 45.
The second half continued in the same vein with Sunderland seeing plenty of possession. Jack Diamond had several shots rise narrowly over the top before he later drew a good save from West Brom’s stopper.
Sunderland remained positive as the half wore on, and full-back Fergus McAughtrie went close in the final stages following Lee Connelly’s slipped pass.
McAughtrie, who came off the bench in the 77th minute, did everything right as he latched onto Connelly’s pass but saw his strike from a tight angle kept out by Albion’s keeper.
That proved to be the Lads’ best chance and as a result Sunderland were forced to head back to the north east with just a point.
Speaking post-match Atkinson said: “I was pleased with a clean sheet and how we played apart from the final ball. The main improvement was in keeping the ball far better than in recent games".
Sunderland: Woud, Gamble, Taylor, Storey, Krusnell, Best (Connolly 70), Hackett, Allan, Diamond, Kimpioka (McAughtrie 77), Connelly.
Subs not used: Patterson, Young.